Team Russia emerged as the overall winner of this year’s Euro Hockey Tour, despite defeats against Sweden and Finland in the final stage of the competition. Ilya Vorobyov’s team completed its campaign with a 4-1 victory over the Czechs in Brno to finish three points clear of Finland after the fourth mini-tournament of the campaign.
Now Vorobyov and his coaching staff face the task of selecting the final roster for the upcoming World Championship in Bratislava. This year’s party promises to be a powerful offensive force, with Vorobyov able to call on a wealth of talent from the NHL including Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nikita Kucherov and Ilya Kovalchuk. There’s also a likely return to World Championship action for goalie Andrei Vasilevsky, who impressed in 2014 as a youngster from Salavat Yulaev and is available as an established part of Tampa Bay’s roster in the NHL.
The KHL is also strongly represented: Nikita Gusev, last season’s leading scorer, is available following a playoff exit for Las Vegas, Gagarin Cup winners Mikhail Grigorenko, Kirill Kaprizov, Ilya Sorokin and Nikita Nesterov are also among those likely to be involved.
The Czech Republic has named its 25-man selection for the upcoming Worlds, and six KHLers are on Milos Riha’s list. Goalie Jakub Kovar (Avtomobilist) is in the party, as is defensemen Jan Kolar of Amur. Three forwards also made the cut: Tomas Zohorna (Amur), Michal Repik (Vityaz) and Robin Hanzl (Spartak).
The IIHF World Championship Division IA competition in Nur-Sultan, the recently-renamed capital of Kazakhstan, ended with the host nation and Belarus securing a return to the Elite Pool for 2020’s event. Both nations drew heavily on KHL talent as they topped the six-team section and secured their places in Switzerland next year.
Kazakhstan, coached by Andrei Skabelka of Barys, selected 15 players from Barys to its roster, plus Martin St.Pierre of Kunlun Red Star. Belarus, with Andrei Sidorenko at the helm, had 10 Dinamo Minsk men on the team plus Geoff Platt (Jokerit), Nick Bailen (Traktor) and Nikita Feoktistov (Admiral). Kazakhstan topped the group, dropping just one point in an overtime win over Belarus. The Belarusians took second place, despite losing the final game to Korea. Last year’s Olympic host collected bronze medals.
Nikita Mikhailis continued his impressive form this season to named tournament MVP. The 23-year-old really established himself on the Barys roster during the campaign, compiling 35 (17+18) points as an ever present for the Chernyshev Division winner. He then chipped in 6 (2+4) points in international play. The other individual awards had a KHL accent as well: Darren Dietz (Barys) was best defenseman, Geoff Platt (Jokerit) was voted leading forward. Top goalie Matt Dalton, now playing in Korea, also has a KHL spell on his resume after representing Neftekhimik.
Another player attracting attention in Nur-Sultan was Korea’s captain Sangwook Kim. The 31-year-old, who featured for his country at last year’s Olympics as well as playing a key role in Korea’s climb up the World Championship rankings to a top flight debut last season, is set to head to Beijing later this month for a try-out at Red Star’s latest recruitment camp. Currently a key member of the Anyang Halla roster that competes in the Asia League, Kim has consistently been among the leading Korean-born players in that competition. If he earns a contract with Red Star, he would become the KHL’s first Korean native.
Olympic-winning coach Oleg Znarok was officially unveiled as the new head coach of Spartak Moscow, bringing to an end his one-year absence from the game. After leading the Russians to glory in PyeongChang, Znarok opted to take a break and recuperate after landing the prize that fans throughout the country had awaited for decades. Despite a swirl of rumors throughout the past campaign, the three-time Gagarin Cup winner only played a limited role as team consultant for Russia’s U20s. Now he’s ready for a new challenge in the demanding, day-to-day world of club coaching. Spartak, a team that has tended to define success in terms of merely reaching the playoffs, might seem like a step down after the star-studded rosters Znarok knew at SKA and with Russia. However, it was in precisely these circumstances with MVD that the coach, now 56, first shot to prominence when he led the outsider to the grand final in 2011.
May 1 marked the official opening of the latest trade window – and there was an immediate flurry of action around the KHL. Metallurg Magnitogorsk was among the busiest clubs, acquiring seven new players on that first day. The new influx includes defenseman Paul Postma from Ak Bars and forward Eric O’Dell from Sochi, filling two of the club’s import slots. Brandon Kozun also arrives from Lokomotiv, along with his colleague from Yaroslavl Andrei Loktionov. Three more new faces come from Torpedo, with goalie Stanislav Galimov and forwards Denis Parshin and Vladimir Galuzin making the move.
AK Bars appointed Dmitry Kvartalnov as its new head coach, and he was quick to welcome two new forwards to the club. Matthew Frattin and Patrice Cormier join from Barys, with the Kazakhs moving to secure Iiro Pakarinen, previously with Metallurg, as a replacement.
Lokomotiv has yet to announce a replacement for Kvartalnov but has moved to bring in some renewed firepower. Stephane Da Costa joins from Avtomobilist and Anton Lander arrives from Ak Bars. Two of the club’s young prospects, meanwhile, are heading across the Atlantic. Yegor Korshkov joins Toronto and Danil Yurtaikin moves to San Jose.
Dinamo Riga is bringing two new players to the KHL: Swedish forward Jacob Berglund arrives after a successful campaign with Krefeld in the German league. His 32 goals made the 27-year-old the leading goalscorer in the regular season. The Latvians also unveiled Ben Marshall, a 26-year-old American D-man who contributed 52 points last season as Banska Bystrica won the Slovak championship.
Finnish defenseman Jesse Virtanen is another new face coming to the league. The 26-year-old joins Traktor after two seasons in Sweden with Farjestad. Virtanen has also featured in three Champions League campaigns with his home-town team Lukko.
During his spell at Farjestad, Virtanen’s team-mates included one-time Canadiens prospect Morgan Ellis. The 27-year-old, who made three NHL appearances for the Habs, is now on his way to Sochi after playing last season in Cologne. He’ll be joined by two new imports on the Black Sea: D-man Simon Bertillson represented Sweden at the last Olympics and joins after spending his previous career at Brynas, while forward Malte Stromwall, 24, is a forward who made his international debut for Sweden last season while playing for KooKoo in Finland.
Vityaz has three new imports. Czech defenseman Jakub Jerabek returns after a year in the AHL with San Antonio, while Finns Joonas Nattinen and Ville Lajunen arrive from Neftekhimik and Kunlun respectively. Kunlun continues its rebuild: Ondrej Vitasek (Amur), Veli-Matti Savinainen (Jokerit) and Sam Lofquist (Sibir) are all leaving the Chinese franchise.